The search continued Monday for a man who flew out from a private airstrip near Grayson on Friday afternoon but did not arrive at his destination, the Columbia Airport.
Search and rescue teams from the sheriff’s offices in Calaveras, Tuolumne and Amador counties, as well as aircraft from the California Highway Patrol and Civil Air Patrol, were searching a rural area of Calaveras County, that Sheriff’s Office reported Monday morning.
Late Friday evening, 75-year-old Leroy Del Don, of Del Mar Farms on Stanislaus County’s West Side, was reported missing. He was going to fly directly to Columbia Airport, which he has done numerous times, and then drive to Pinecrest in a vehicle that was waiting for him in the Columbia hanger, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office.
When he did not arrive in Pinecrest as planned, his wife became worried and had a friend check the Columbia hanger. The plane was not there, but the vehicle was.
“Where the plane was last picked up on radar was a ways off that route, so we’re kind of unsure why,” Calaveras sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Eberhardt said Monday afternoon. Perhaps Del Don was doing some aerial sightseeing before his planned landing in Columbia, Eberhardt said.
The plane is a twin-engine, propeller-driven 1967 Beechcraft Baron. It is beige with brown and orange striping and the tail number N3717Q.
The aircraft appears to have traveled over Columbia Airport and through Calaveras County before disappearing from radar west of Mountain Ranch, according to the Calaveras Sheriff’s Office.
The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center does some radar tracking a certain distance from the ground, Eberhardt said, but it stops tracking below that elevation. It’s possible a low-flying plane could go quite a distance without showing up on radar, he said.
There are a few private airstrips in Calaveras County, Eberhardt said, but those have been checked.
The sergeant noted that Sunday’s weather hindered search efforts and some thunderheads still were in the area Monday.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office was told that Del Don has extensive flying experience and has been flying for over 40 years. He is a flight instructor and has no known medical issues.
Anyone who heard or saw the plane or a similar plane during Friday afternoon is urged to contact the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office at 209-754-6500 and speak with dispatch.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327